New York City Stonewalls Forward on Metzitzah B'peh Circumcision Regulations

Babies Are Sickened — But City Won't Give Info

Tradition? Rabbi Avrohom Cohn performs a bris at a synagogue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. He says he performed the controversial metzitzah bpeh ritual, but did not get consent from the parents.
courtesy of avrohom cohn
Tradition? Rabbi Avrohom Cohn performs a bris at a synagogue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. He says he performed the controversial metzitzah bpeh ritual, but did not get consent from the parents.

By Paul Berger

Published April 24, 2014, issue of May 02, 2014.
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It’s been more than one year since New York City announced a new regulation to protect infants from contracting herpes during metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite that many ultra-Orthodox mohels employ.

Since then, two babies in the city that were subjected to MBP, as the rite is known, have been infected with the herpes virus, and as the Forward reported in March, one of the city’s leading mohels continues to flout the law.

But the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has refused to respond to multiple requests from the Forward for basic information about how, or if, it is implementing its regulation.

The department’s regulation requires mohels to seek written parental consent before performing MBP, in which the mohel’s lips are placed on the infant’s penis to suction blood from the circumcision wound.

The city has not responded to questions that the Forward sent via email eight times between March 27 and April 22. Nor has the city responded to four phone messages left between April 9 and April 22.

In its queries, the Forward sought to learn what, if anything, the health department is doing to enforce its own rule after Rabbi Avrohom Cohn, a leading mohel, told the Forward that he refuses to comply with it.

MBP is practiced by a significant percentage of the city’s large Orthodox Jewish population. Though health authorities warn that it poses a threat of infection to infants, whose anti-immune responses are not fully developed, several major ultra-Orthodox groups insist that its performance is an integral requirement of the overall religious rite of circumcision.

However, many Modern Orthodox mohels use a sterile pipette to suction off blood following an infant’s circumcision.

Leading medical groups say there is a risk in particular that the mohel can transmit herpes to an infant during MBP that, while harmless to adults, can be potentially fatal to newborns. New York City’s health department says 14 infants have been infected in the city since 2000. Two of those babies died, and at least two others suffered brain damage.

Cohn, who is chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision, told the Forward in March that he performs MBP in the city on a regular basis.


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